Posted by Matthew Hoskin on 17th November 2017

Who needs canon law?

In short, the answer to the question, ‘Who needs canon law?’ is, ‘Everyone.’ Canon law is, as a practical discipline, the body of regulations (Latin: regulae or the Greek canones) that govern church life. As a realm of knowledge, canon law is the study of the ordering of relationships amongst human beings, clerical and lay, from bishops, popes, and kings, to monks, ‘ordinary’ lay people, and subdeacons.   It never really went out of fashion in the Middle Ages. Even before the strengthening of papal power and effective authority in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, everyone had an interest in canon law so as to know their duties and their rights, to seek an insight into what a just society might look like, a society ordered under the headship of Christ.   At Durham, William of St-Calais needed it to be able to maintain his own rights and position in the face of opposition from King William Rufus. Canon law enabled him to appeal to the pope and made him claim, in 1088, that an assembly of laymen was not legally competent to try him. He used the manuscript now Cambridge, Peterhouse 74, a copy of what scholars call Collectio Lanfranci, a canon law book brought over from Normandy with Lanfranc of Bec (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1070-89).   William of St-Calais’ successor, Ranulf Flambard (Bishop of Durham 1099-1128) needed canon law because he was involved in the disputes between Canterbury and York over whether or not Canterbury was Metropolitan or Primate over all of Britain or just over the South, and York thus Metropolitan in the North, independent of Canterbury. During his episcopate, Durham Cathedral Library B.IV.18 was written in Canterbury, and probably came here soon after — this contains a lot of canon law, including the Canterbury forgeries, forged documents that pressed Canterbury’s claims as Metropolitan of all Britain.   In the mid-1100s, William Cumin tried to have himself forcibly installed as Bishop of Durham with the support of King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. Armies were involved. People died. His opponent was William of Ste Barbe, who won in the end not through force of arms but through canon law, as described in additions to Symeon of Durham’s history of the Church of Durham.   The monks of Durham also needed canon law, especially in the later 1200s when they came into dispute with Antony Bek (Bishop of Durham, 1284-1310), and could produce their own documents and cite procedure to press their against him.   Not only can we find the use of canon law in narrative sources, we need look no further than Durham’s manuscripts themselves. So far, the only canon law manuscript is a copy of the Liber Sextus of Boniface VIII, which is a systemisation of the decretals of Boniface VIII (Pope 1294-1303) that formed, along with five other volumes of decretals and Gratian’s Decretum, the Corpus Iuris Canonici.   Gratian’s Decretum, composed around 1140, is the most popular canon law book of the Middle Ages. Durham Priory had five copies. It also had a copy of Burchard of Worms (DCL B.IV.17), which was very popular before Gratian, as well as copies of the work associated with Ivo of Chartres (who comes between Burchard and Gratian). I won’t bore you with the gory details, but there are canon law books associated with Durham Priory from its (re)foundation by William of St-Calais in 1083 to the decretals of Hadrian VII, printed in 1527.   The big names of canon law from that era are all represented, and some of these manuscripts, especially illuminated copies of Gratian, are real treasures. My preliminary count has found thirty-three manuscripts of canon law, one printed book, and three volumes of Roman law.
Folio 13r of Durham University Library, Cosin MS V.iii.4, Decretals of Pope Boniface VIII. Provided by Durham Priory Library Project – a collaboration between Durham University and Durham Cathedral.
Posted by Matthew Hoskin on 3rd November 2017

Canon Law MSS in Medieval Durham

As I said in my introductory post, my direction of research on this project is Durham’s rich collection of manuscripts of canon law. What exactly does that entail? I have chosen to narrow my focus initially to 1070-1170, and to start with one man and three manuscripts.


The man: William of St-Calais


Contemporary image of William of St-Calais, DCL B.II.13. See below for rights.

William of St-Calais was Bishop of Durham 1080-1096. Among the fifty books he is recorded as having donated (discussed here), there is Decreta pontificum. This manuscript has been identified as the copy of the Collectio Lanfranci now in Cambridge, Peterhouse MS 74.


William was one of the many Norman appointments made by William the Conqueror as a means to solidify his rule. This was especially important for William in the North, which had already rebelled and which also bordered Scotland, ruled by the aggressive King Malcolm III at the time.


What matter most about him for my immediate research are his place in reform and his use of canon law. William of St-Calais fits the profile of an eleventh-century reforming bishop quite well. He kicks out the married clergy from Durham Cathedral. He refounds the religious house there following the Rule of St Benedict. He begins the rebuilding of his cathedral.


Two Manuscripts


According to Symeon of Durham’s deliberately opaque De Iniusta vexacione, in 1188, William finds that he is having many of his temporal possessions confiscated by King William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror, and himself and his knights being harassed. He is called to court at Old Sarum on suspicion of supporting William Rufus’ brother, Robert, in a conspiracy. Throughout the entire proceedings, he claims that he will only answer according to the canons and that the laymen present are not legally competent to judge him. Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, argues the opposite, since William’s trial had to do with his loyalty to William Rufus and his temporal possessions, not his spiritual authority as bishop of Durham.


Throughout, he seems to be making reference to a book.


We have that book: Cambridge, Peterhouse MS 74.


We also have what is probably the exemplar (certainly the ancestor) of that book, Lanfranc’s own copy of the canon law collection that modern scholars give his name, Collectio Lanfranci, also in Cambridge, Trinity College B. 16. 44.


Mark Philpott has already shown us that William marked his copy in canons that he refers to in Die iniusta vexacione. I suspect more revelations await us when I get to Cambridge.


A Third Manuscript: Durham Cathedral Library B.IV.18


I have not made it to Cambridge, so besides reading about Durham and canon law in this period, I have spent time with a manuscript that is still here, and will soon be digitised, B.IV.18. This is a manuscript from after 1123, written in Canterbury. It begins with an extreme abridgement of Collectio Lanfranci, then some letters of Gregory the Great, followed by various items related to current issues in canon law, such as the Investiture Controversy.


It also includes the Cena Cypriani, an extended fifth-century biblical parody/in-joke and tour-de-force of allegorical punning, inserted seemingly at random in the midst of the canon law, and a series of extracts on the Trinity. Finally, a later hand added some Hugh of St Victor for good measure.


This manuscript points to the place of canon law within intellectual history. Cambridge, Peterhouse 74, was a canon law book that was clearly used by its owner to plead his case in court. Durham Cathedral, B.IV.18, would be almost useless to argue a case. Nonetheless, it must have had a purpose for the Canterbury monk who compiled it and the Durham monks into whose library it found its way.


My argument is that said purpose was the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge. We need to stop thinking about canon law books as merely utilitarian, and I hope that as my work on this manuscript and its context progresses, I will be able to demonstrate canon law’s wider uses and importance in the Middle Ages.


Image provided by Durham Priory Library Project – a collaboration between Durham University and Durham Cathedral, under Creative Commons Licence.

Posted by Elizabeth Biggs on 23rd October 2017

Working between Catalogues

This is a quick and belated blog for this week as I’ve been travelling to find yet more Durham books that are now elsewhere. I’m planning to write about them in the future, but for today I want think about two handwritten sets of lists that are still safely in Durham. Last week, Matthew wrote about Everything a Monk Needs and the William of St Calais booklist, that wonderful compendium of texts that would have supplied most of the new monastery’s needs in the 1080s. Sadly we don’t have anything quite like it for the sixteenth century, when the library had become much bigger.


Instead, when thinking about the sixteenth century library, we’re working in the gaps between two very different book lists. The last known medieval catalogue of Durham’s library is digitised here and there is a nineteenth-century edition here. It was made in 1392 and then updated haphazardly and sporadically for the next twenty years or so, with things like the list of books sent south to Durham College in Oxford for the monks studying there. The second list is from the late seventeenth century, and it is Elias Smith’s book list organised by classes, B IV 37, which is not online. I find it a bit hard to work with because it has duplicate entries for books, especially if an author wrote about more than one book of the Bible. It was also made after Bishop Cosin had given his generous collection to Durham Cathedral, and those books aren’t always clearly distinguished in this list.


Print of John Cosin, seventeenth-century bishop of Durham, responsible for Cosin’s Library and lots of other buildings around Durham

Anything that has stayed here since the middle ages is in the Smith list. As far as I can tell, pretty much everything that Smith lists that can be identified as belonging to the medieval library is nicely and safely in the strongrooms. There are a couple of exceptions, such as a rather lovely Suidas that was given away by the Chapter in the eighteenth century and is now in the Harley collection at the British Library. But by and large, Smith’s catalogue tells us that the dispersal from the medieval library was largely complete by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This is useful information because it narrows down the connections by which books were acquired by other people and scattered across England. Clearly, by the time Smith thought a new list of books was needed, the cathedral community were once again taking a strong interest in their books and spurred on by John Cosin, were once again collecting.


Wait a minute though. That’s a bit too simplified. We know that in 1556 Bishop Tunstall gave orders that the library was to be carefully kept. We also know that in 1560 Dean Horne was disputing with some of his canons over books that they had taken from the library, which he felt strongly were cathedral property. We have isolated records of new books being given to the library in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries- in wills, or written into surviving books, including gifts of service books in Mary’s reign. It’s highly likely that there were other catalogues between the mid-fifteenth century and the seventeenth, that just simply haven’t survived.When a new list was made, the old list was probably discarded as no longer up-to-date. The 1392 catalogue slipped out of sight and so survived, and a good thing that was! Yes, the major dispersal happened in the mid to late sixteenth century, but it was also a time of acquisitions as the cathedral community argued about the necessary books for priests in the Reformation. Smith’s list marks one moment in the ongoing story of Durham’s library as a living collection.

Posted by Matthew Hoskin on 13th October 2017

The Book Donation List of William of St Calais: Everything a Monk Needs?

On the front of the first folio of the Bible of William St Calais (Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.4), Symeon of Durham (identified by his writing; d. c. 1130) gives a list of books donated by William of St Calais (Bishop of Durham, 1080-1096):

Provided by Durham Priory Library Project – a collaboration between Durham University and Durham Cathedral

Bishop William donated 49 volumes listed here: a two-volume Bible; three volumes of St Augustine’s Commentary on the Psalms; St Augustine’s On the City of God; a volume of St Augustine’s letters; St Augustine’s commentary on the Gospel of John; St Jerome on the Twelve Minor Prophets; a volume of St Jerome’s letters; St Jerome on Hebrew words; St Gregory the Great’s Moralia in two volumes; St Gregory’s Liber Pastoralis; the Register of St Gregory’s letters; the 40 Gospel Homilies of St Gregory; Bede’s commentary on Mark and Luke; Hrabanus Maurus on the Gospel of Matthew; two books of sermons and homelies; ‘decrees of the pontiffs’ (this is the canon law collection Collectio Lanfranci; the Histories of Pompeius Trogus (almost certainly the epitome by Justin); Prosper On the Contemplative and Active Life; Origen on the Old Testament; Julius Pomerius (which should read Julianus Pomerius) On the Contemplative Life; Tertullian; Sidonius Apollinaris’ poems (‘Panigericus); two volumes of the Breviary; two volumes of antiphoner; one graduale; two books of readings for Matins; ‘Lives of the Fathers’; Life of the Egyptian Monks; Diadema Monachorum; the Enchiridion of St Augustine; St Gregory the Great on Ezekiel; Bede on the Song of Songs; DialogusParadisus; a Hystoria Anglorum, presumably that of Bede; St Ambrose of Milan On JosephOn Penitence, and On the Death of His Brother; ‘Books’ of the Confessions of St Augustine; three missals; and a martyrology and the rule (one volume).


A great many of these manuscripts still exist here at Durham, which is exciting. The Collectio Lanfranci has made its way to Cambridge as Peterhouse MS 74. My colleague Elizabeth is hunting down any others that may be traceable.


Almost half of these are patristic — unless you want to make Bede a church father, then over half. The remaining books are the Bible, liturgical books, books about the monastic and contemplative life, and Pompeius Trogus (or, rather, Justin’s epitome of Trogus); this last is useful for the reader of the Bible to gain historical context.


William of St Calais refounded the religious house associated with Durham Cathedral as a Benedictine priory in 1083. These books reflect the Benedictine world of prayer, Scripture reading, and ascetic/contemplative labour.


Thus, the patristic texts are mostly biblical commentaries or writings about the ascetic and contemplative lives — this latter category will include many of the letters of St Jerome. The other early mediaeval works, such as the Diadema Monachorum (presumably of Smaragdus, d. 840) or Hrabanus Maurus on Matthew, are of the same nature. There are also Late Antique or early medieval saints’ lives here, the Vitas Patrum, the Dialogus, the Paradysus, and the Vita Egiptiorum monachorum — the edifying stories of the early Egyptian and Italian monks.These together inform how monks read the Bible, pray the liturgy, pray silently in their cells, work in their gardens.


In fact, important for understanding the solitary community that is a monastery, we need to take note of Gregory the Great, Prosper, and Julianus Pomerius. All of these writers, like most late ancient Christian writers, hold the contemplative (or ‘mystical’) life in the highest regard, but they also believe in the active life of service and charity, navigating a way to hold them both in tension. This is precisely what someone living under Benedict’s Rule needs to grasp.


This balance is the soul of monasticism when taken alongside the liturgical life of the monastery — and for this William has also provided abundantly.


Everything a monk needs? Probably.

Posted by Elizabeth Biggs on 5th October 2017

Chasing Durham Books around the Country

It’s lovely to be back in Durham just as the new academic year starts and it’s a good moment to pause and think about what I’ve been doing so far. I’ve spent the summer wandering around the country looking for books that used to belong to priests connected to the cathedral or to the cathedral library and that then ended up elsewhere.


Archbishop Matthew Parker, appropriately seen here with a book. He put together a major library for the English Reformation at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge

Some of these ended up where I would expect them to be- the major collections of medieval manuscripts and books, such as the British Library’s Harley and Cotton collections, or Corpus Christi College, Cambridge’s Parker Collection. These were collections put together by people looking for old books, and for the history of the English Church. Durham had really good English history- the writings of Bede and the other Northern saints and a strong historical tradition, so of course these collectors snapped up books that came from Durham originally, including most famously the Lindisfarne Gospels.


Other locations of former Durham books are a bit more surprising- why are there a whole chunk of books in the Bristol Central Library or another whole chunk in York Minster Library? Well, here’s where I think it gets interesting. In 1583, a rising star of the Elizabethan Church, Tobie Matthew, became dean of Durham Cathedral. He was already a book collector, adding quite a lot to the library at Christ Church, Oxford, and was already building up his own collection of over 3000 books. Matthew stayed in Durham as dean and then as bishop until 1606, when he moved south to York as the archbishop. On his move from Durham to York, he took with him quite a few books that had originally belonged to Durham Cathedral Library, including a lovely printed copy of the Roman writer Quintilian, books of canon law, and a Psalter.


Matthew also seems to have explored the bishop’s home of Auckland Castle thoroughly. At York there are four books that were signed both by Bishop Tunstall and by Bishop Matthew. I wonder if some of Tunstall’s books had been left behind in the castle when he went south for the last time in the summer of 1558. He spent the last months of his life under house arrest in London, and his books seem to have been dispersed pretty rapidly. Some went into the Durham Cathedral collections, others have ended up all over the world (including a copy of More’s Utopia that I really want to see in the US), and Matthew ended up with at least these ones.


College Green in Bristol, right by the library, city hall and the cathedral

Those are just some of the books that are associated with Matthew in York Minster’s collections today. When he died in 1628, his widow Frances gave his books to the Minster Library. However, Matthew wasn’t originally from the north of England; he was born and raised in Bristol. He was concerned that Bristol should have the books it needed to teach its children, and so he sent a large selection of his books there. The library he helped to found in Bristol eventually became the Bristol City Library, right by the cathedral. I spent a couple of very happy days looking through the books that he gave to Bristol that he had acquired in Durham.


There are a huge number of Durham Priory books that have been dispersed over the years and I’m still trying to figure out why they were taken and how they ended up in their modern locations. By looking at the books that left, I’ll be able to better understand the books that are still safely on the shelves of the library here.